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The Changing Face of Retail

18, Jun 2013

Nearly one in eight stores on Britain’s streets is currently empty.

Sky News has reported that 11.9% of retail space is currently unoccupied after dropping 1% from the last quarter (Jan 2013).

The main issue stems from the emergence of online shopping, which has continued to grow rapidly, this has led to a situation were less people are shopping in their local shopping centre and so fewer shops are capable of adapting and surviving.

This has taken its toll on some bigger brands, as well as the obvious implications for smaller and independent stores, with Comet and Jessops both disappearing from Britain’s streets and Blockbuster and HMV narrowly avoiding the same fate.

This dip in the number of shops on the streets has led to some companies adopting new ways to reach their markets.

Philip Hall department store in Ripon has recently decided to cease trading as an independent department store and re-open itself as a market hall, allowing local independent companies the opportunity to pitch up for as little as £10 a day in a bid to keep the business profitable.

The owner of the store, Anthony Blackburn told the Ripon Gazette: “High streets never stand still; they have to continually reinvent themselves.”

A similar move was taken in Bangor, Wales where a department store which had been dormant for nearly 4 years was brought back to life as an assortment of 40 individual stores all trading independently from each other within the same space.

Alongside this the idea of “pop-up shops” has been popular for nearly a decade now but the model has changed from special occasion shops such as Halloween or Christmas to local independent stores appearing on high streets temporarily all year round.

Shops often open for anywhere between a day to a week and then disappear and re-appear somewhere else a few months later, others may appear purely for the build-up to Christmas then disappear from the high street until the following year, the idea is to build up intrigue with customers, making those days the store “appears” very successful before disappearing all over again.

The Pop-Up Britain campaign, to promote independent British businesses and give them a taste of life on the high street has seen success over the past year and took over six spaces in The Mall, Camberley for six weeks giving 18 different businesses their chance.

Another successful project, BoxPark, in London is a shopping Mall constructed of shipping containers and is set to remain for 4 years renting both to major brands and independent businesses offering the full mall experience with cafes and bars as well as retail stores.

All of these examples share the same goal, to give new businesses the opportunity to flourish in an otherwise difficult environment to start trading in.

But pop-up stores aren’t the only shift in the retail environment, Tesco in South Korea have taken shopping on your mobile in a new direction by offering customers the chance to shop whilst waiting for the subway.

The walls of the subway are set out with images of products each with a QR code, commuters scan what they want to have delivered to their house, pay by their mobile and the shopping arrives when they’re back home.

It works in the same way online shopping works but removes the need for the customer to come to the store or the website, instead the store and website goes to where a large number of their customers will be, increasing their share of the market.

This new method of shopping is a step away from online shopping sales and one towards a hybrid shopping method incorporating both high street and online elements to a more convenient shopping experience.

This hybrid retail system or “omni-channel” retail is an emerging force and allowing brands the opportunity with the various channels available to their customers (in store, online, mobile and applications) to appear to their customers across these channels as exactly the same company, offering exactly the same products at exactly the same prices.

This means no one channel is a better choice for customers allowing all channels to work together rather than in competition with each other.

It also encourages technologically savvy customers to compare the prices of one store to another and know both prices are representative, meaning if you appear to be the cheaper option you genuinely are cheaper and thus bringing you sales.

All this together does mean that there has been a shift as now sales are made through websites and applications rather than in face-to-face retail situations and larger national brands are being forced from the shopping centres leading in cases where omni-channel strategies have not gotten off the ground yet.

Sheena MacKenzie, Managing Director of LifeSize Touch said: “I think the decline of high street retail is a challenge to reverse but I believe that the beginnings of the change can be achieved through the successful integration of the right technologies into the new retail environment.”

The integration of through glass touch screen technology is certainly something capable of that, brands can engage customers and have the ability to allow them to buy products, have it delivered to their home address and pay for it all by mobile but within the high street model is key as the attraction of a day out shopping is still something that people want to experience even with the convenience of internet shopping available.

The technologies currently being used in retail (tablets and kiosks) do have their role to play, allowing staff and customers the use of them throughout the shop, but with many retailers worried about the risk of theft and damage most are now moving towards tethering or mounting the tablets to a fixed point limiting their mobility.

In terms of fixed point technology then tablets are still relatively unsafe, a determined or prepared thief may cut the tether allowing the tablet to be stolen or damaged, either puts it out of service.
However, through glass touch screen technology without a projector allows the same usability of a tethered tablet with none of the risks of theft or damage as it is sunk into the surface around it, making the likelihood of robbery low and the chances of being noticed trying to remove the glass high limiting the opportunities of theft.

This changing face of retail is a unique one, the incorporation of technologies such as tablets and online shopping into retail has meant there is less need for high streets as they once were with big branded stores dominating every shop, this does however allow for high streets and shopping centres to reinvent themselves into interactive experiences through the use of through glass touch screen technology.